The experience of pain in one form or another, is part of the human condition and none of us are exempt from it.
In the eys of the Torah and as part of our Hashkafa, we Jews are taught that one can achieve a heightened relationship with Hashem through the experience of pain. When we utilize our pain properly, we can turn it into a vehicle of bringing us closer to Borei Olam. To this end, pain is a reminder for us to find Hashem, take hold of his hand and beg him to help us through our troubles. A person who feels full, will come to forget Hashem, as King David writes; “Pen esbah V’chachashti” – “Lest I become Full and Forget You Hashem”!
When we feel as if we are lacking for nothing, we tend to forget Hashem. However, when we experience pain, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, we remember our Creator and we cry out to him for salvation! As the expression goes, “there is no atheist in a foxhole”!
It is beyond the scope of this article to properly address the “Hows and Why’s” with respect to (why) certain people experience increasing pain in their lives, where others seem to get by with a far lesser dosage. It is true that Hashem is so desirous of a relationship with each of us, that he will sometimes bring pain upon those who he wishes to draw close as a reminder that he “misses us”. However, as to “why” (etc.) Hashem gives some of us more of a ‘reminder’ than others, this is something which needs to be properly addressed on its own. I would recommend these excellent Lectures on Suffering by Hagaon Rav Yitzchok Kirzner Zatzal, who was no stranger to pain during his lifetime.
Rather, the purpose of this article is to address the indisputable fact that there is nothing like pain to act as a conduit for forging a connection with God.
We must properly define pain in order to discuss it.
We all experience daily headaches of all types. The minutia of aggravations and difficulties, “comes with the territory” of our lives. However, these hardships do not assail us with such singular force as to push all other items on “our agenda” into the recesses of our minds. Conversely, pain in its acute form – whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, is so intense, that it literally prevents us from being able to function properly. When a person experiences the excruciating physical pain of a toothache, he screams out to Hashem, “God, let me hurt my foot..etc. etc. just take this pain away”!! In other words, he is completely consumed by the sensation of pain, while all other matters get pushed into the background.
This is also true of spiritual and emotional pain. Sometimes we experience such severe pain and we feel hopeless and cannot function properly.
Pain is a Gift
During times like these, we must know that pain – when utilized properly is a gift from Hashem! Hashem waits anxiously for us to reach out to him from the depths of our despair.
“There is nothing more complete than a broken Heart” – says the Rebbe of Kotzk.
When all is seemingly lost and everything else recedes into the shadows, what remains and always will remain, is the reality of Hashem!
There are many people who care for us. Human beings are “social animals” and we are constantly surrounded by colleagues, friends and family alike. Yet, when we find ourselves in the throes of our personal pain, we suddenly feel hopelessly alone. We feel as if nobody can understand or relate to our situation. At this precious moment, we must recognize that Hashem himself is right there with us and understands our situation completely.
We are never alone and need not feel that way. Indeed, Hashem is waiting for us to utilize these moments in order to connect with him!
We know that there isn’t a more desirable prayer to Hashem than the simple “Tefilah Le’ani Ki Ya’atof” – The plaintative cry of a person with a broken heart…a person who has come to realize that only Hashem can save him!
It is for this reason that trials and tribulations – and indeed pain – are built into the fabric of Hashems world. This is actually by design. Hashem intends it to be this way for it is actually a tool for spiritual growth.
David Hamelech writes; “Lest my enemies rejoice, for although I have fallen, I will get up again”! It is precisely the inevitable ups and downs and periods of pain which we experience, that causes us to take stock of our lives and to ultimately grow in our relationship with Hashem (and that’s why we are here in the first place!).
Self inflicted pain
Sometimes we are the cause of our own pain. We mess up. We do aveiros and sin before Hashem, or regarding our fellow man. We feel the crushing pain and hopelessness of our situation. At these times, we must realize that the pain is an opportunity to connect with Hashem and we must not squander that opportunity by simply crying out without directing our cries to the Almighty! To cry out in pain and not direct your cries to Hashem, is akin to finding a precious diamond and leaving it in the gutter! Only Hashem can make us whole again and he will! True Teshuva is to eradicate our sin(s) completely as if it never happened! The Rambam writes this quite explicitly in Hilchos Teshuva.
We need to talk to Hashem in any Language (most importantly the language of the heart, or ”heartzshprach” in Yiddish), to acknowledge our pain, to share it with him and to ask him for help. Proper Tefiloh is crucial to achieving and restoring our sense of self and our happiness. Reciting Krias Shema before going to bed, is also crucially important, as we wrote about over here.
We must also realize and be alert to the fact that our self inflicted (or other) pain, often causes us to lapse in areas of our lives which we would otherwise be vigilant in protecting. Rav Shimshon Pincus points out that sometimes when we become despondent as a result of our pain, we tend to adopt the “throw in the towel mentality”, where we “give up” and might be apt to raid the fridge, read certain questionable books and magazines, or frequent certain places we would otherwise never walk into. This is to destroy and lose sight of why we are experiencing this pain in the first place!! We must be careful to gird ourselves during these precious moments and not to “jump from the frying pan into the fire”, chas V’shalom!!! Hashem is testing us and we can overcome this test and come out on the other side even stronger than before!
Finally, we must recognize that all forms of personal pain, whether physical, spiritual or emotional, stems from the much larger pain of the displaced Shechina in our long exile. We must daven to Hashem that he bring an end to his own pain and suffering by returning to us, his beloved Am Yisrael! We pray “Hashiveinu Hashem Eilecha V’nashuva”!
Chazzal in Medrash Eicha relate that in the neighborhood of Rabban Gamliel, there lived an old widow who lost her only son. Every night at Chatzos, she would cry and lament over her personal tragedy. Rabban Gamliel would hear her cries and position himself close to the sounds of her wailing and he would begin to lament over the Churban Habayis. This almanah would cry over her personal loss, while Rabban Gamliel would cry over the Churban. This is because Rabban Gamliel understood that ultimately, all personal suffering is a result of the greater suffering of Hashem and his chosen people torn apart during this long and bitter galus!
Let us all have faith and renew our energies and we shall overcome!!
<Adapted in part from talks by Rav Shimshon Pincus Z”L, Rav Mordechai Gifter Z’L and Rav Yaakov Meir Shechter Shlitah.>
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